Ahtna’s natural resources are plentiful. Our region has been consistently surveyed for decades and is well-documented as having both potential and current resources available.
Unlike many other regions in Alaska, ours is completely accessible via the road system, connecting us to busy depots like Anchorage, Fairbanks, and Valdez. Ahtna is also highly proactive in working with government agencies and private sector companies to help us enhance our resource capabilities and offerings, while staying true to our mission to preserve and protect Ahtna lands. If you are interested in our lands and resources, please contact our Land department directly at (907) 822-3476.
Ahtna lands have great mineral resource potential – the incredibly rich Kennecott copper deposits attest to the ability of the region to host world-class mines. Exploration and mine development on Ahtna lands has the following advantages:
- Strong mineral resource potential
- Secure land tenure
- Enormous land tracts covering entire mineral belts
- Low degree of prior exploration
- Best infrastructure development and accessibility of any Native land holdings in the State
Mineral Occurrences & Exploration Opportunities
Ahtna believes its lands should be highly rated on the global scale of exploration opportunities. Companies interested in exploring and developing mines on Ahtna land are encouraged to learn more. Ahtna will make all private non-proprietary and public data pertaining to Ahtna lands available to interested parties and can assist with state inspection and evaluation.
The Bureau of Land Management has documented mineral occurrences situated on Ahtna lands that lie within Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Reserve. A total of 55 occurrences situated on or near Ahtna selections were included in the assessment. Of the 55 occurrences, 9 are historically-producing dormant mines, 27 are development projects, and the remainder are exploration prospects of varying importance. 8 of the occurrences are placer gold deposits.
Numerous mineral occurrences lying outside the Wrangell-St. Elias Park boundaries are also present, and many occur on Ahtna land. Information on these prospects can be obtained from Ahtna, the USGS or the Alaska Department of Natural Resources.
While some very significant deposits have been discovered, the region has seen very little exploration. A reconnaissance program carried out by WGM, Inc., an Anchorage-based consulting firm, in the late 1970’s is the most comprehensive program to date. The program barely began the mineral assessment process; however, it was successful in the identification of six main mineral belts.
Upon completion of the selection process, Ahtna will own 1.77 million acres of land covering properties with excellent mineral potential. There are indications of deposits of the following affinity:
- High-grade epigenetic gold deposits
- Placer gold
- Zinc-lead-silver deposits
- Copper deposits
- Nickel-platinum-palladium deposits
Ahtna currently has one active mineral exploration agreement. Ahtna would consider an arrangement whereby a mining company or a consortium would be provided the exclusive right to explore in a reconnaissance fashion all Ahtna selected and conveyed lands, with the option to select specific tracts of land for lease and detailed exploration and development.
Ahtna expects to see the following components to any Exploration and Option to Lease Agreement:
- Signing bonus
- Scholarship fund contributions
- Escalating work commitment
- Production royalty
- Advance minimum royalty payments
- Shareholder hire and contract preference
- Option to participate at feasibility stage
- Vocational training
- Electronic and printed copies of all data generated
Property owned by Ahtna has received only cursory mineral exploration efforts. Much more reconnaissance work is required to delineate established mineral occurrences, and to identify as-yet unrecognized occurrences. Nevertheless, strong targets that can quickly be moved to an intermediate or advanced exploration stage exist. Modern exploration methods, economic and deposit-model concepts have been applied in the region on a limited basis.
Most of Ahtna’s mineral lands are situated close to major transportation corridors and infrastructure. Target economics are therefore excellent by Alaska standards.
For all these reasons – technical, economic, and political – Ahtna lands are attractive exploration targets.
The Ahtna region has documented and abundant renewable, alternative and fossil fuel energy resources that can be used to increase economic development, energy security and decrease energy prices.
The Ahtna region is endowed with a wide range of energy opportunities, including extensive and diverse biomass; hydro potential that ranges from run-of-river and low impact high-lead traditional massive dams; village scale micro, wind-hybrid turbines; in-stream hydro potential; and geothermal potential.
Biomass The Alaska Department of Natural Resources indicates that wood availability in the Ahtna region is high and is comprised of Open Spruce and Closed Mixed Forest including white and black spruce, paper birch, balsam poplar and quaking aspen. Estimates of available biomass within the region are approximately 3 million tons, which can replace all of the residences and businesses using fossil fuels in the region for 150 years on a sustainable basis.
Wind A wind map of the Ahtna region generally indicates low probability of wind production on a commercial scale however; there are several areas with a high wind to power ratio which should be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.
Solar There are currently several solar applications within the Ahtna region. An Alaska Energy Authority report describes the abundance of solar energy in the region due to the abundance of sunlight and concludes that photovoltaic systems and hot water systems are the most applicable to the region.
Geothermal There are known geothermal resources in the Wrangell-St. Elias Mountains and in the Glennallen area. A geothermal map of the Ahtna region can be found at http://geothermal.inel.gov/maps/ak.pdf. A Preliminary Report on the Investigation of Geothermal Energy Resource Potential of the Eastern Copper River Basin, Alaska concluded there were three areas of interest to be further reviewed: The Tolsona mud volcanoes; the Klawasi mud volcanoes- hot spring; and a third area near the confluence of the Tazlina and Copper Rivers. The third area is located on the highway system and the report recommended that it be the first area further explored.
Natural Gas After much anticipation, Pan American drilled the first oil well in 1963 approximately 11 miles west of Glennallen. The well encountered several hundred gross feet lower Cretaceous-aged Nelchina sandstone, which yielded natural gas shows and high water flows indicating that the rock formation had the necessary porosity to hold fluid; the permeability to produce the fluids; and that the surrounding rock had high organic content that had undergone the necessary heat and pressure to generate hydrocarbons.
Several more attempts were made specifically for the location of natural gas from 2007-2009. The third attempt in 2009 located natural gas at approximately 4000 feet which tested at 94% methane. Unfortunately during the third attempt fractured rock was encountered and resulted in water from a shallower zone to flow into the well inhibiting any gas flow from the upper Nelchina sand interval.
More recently Ahtna reprocessed all the seismic data performed in the region using modern technology and identified large gas zones associated with the presence of thick Nelchina sandstone intervals. Drilling of a gas exploration well, known as Tolsona No. 1, was completed in the winter of 2016 under a state exploration license issued to Tolsona Oil & Gas Exploration LLC, an Ahtna, Inc. company. Drilling took place on state land about 11 miles west of Ahtna’s corporate headquarters in Glennallen, AK.
Coal A large coal field in the western Ahtna region contains low rank coal deposits in individual seams up to 30 feet thick at depths of 700 to 2,000 feet.
A smaller field located adjacent to the Parks Highway at milepost 192. This site was utilized by the Alaska Railroad in the mid-1920s and the preliminary reports indicate the coal in this area is similar in characteristics of the coal deposit near Healy.
Hydro Approximately 60% of the electricity produced in the Ahtna region is produced from hydro. Many large scale hydro projects have been assessed over the course of the previous 50 years. However; many projects were less than 2 megawatts. Hydro opportunities within the region need to be further identified and evaluated.
Tourism is a strong and vibrant industry in the Copper River Basin and Ahtna’s involvement in tourism is intended to benefit Ahtna shareholders in the long term and enhance Ahtna’s land stewardship. The biggest asset that Ahtna has is its ownership of over 600,000 acres in the Wrangell St. Elias National Park as well as its holdings in the Denali National Park and Preserve.
Public access is extremely limited and the opportunities for business development are scarce on currently available public land. This means that Ahtna is in a position to provide access and land within the Park for tourism based business.
Opportunities for Growth
Opportunities for expanding tourism are associated with the natural environment, cultural resources and the vacation experiences that access to those resources offer. Increasing ecotourism will be less costly than expanding other arms of the visitor industry.
Existing opportunities for expansion of the summer season into the spring and fall and in the development of new wintertime activities are increasing. A new visitor destination within the Ahtna region is evident if one looks at the obvious merits of the Copper River Basin:
- Access from scheduled air service
- Proximity to overnight accommodations
- Nearby recreation opportunities
- Room for expansion
- A setting of grandeur
The Copper River Basin – particularly the Wrangell-St. Elias National Park – holds great allure for visitors in terms of being the largest national park in the country as well as having the splendor of the Wrangell Mountains.
Criteria for Success
In Ahtna’s plan to expand its tourism related opportunities, certain factors are recognized as critical to success:
- Vacation experiences must meet the expectations of the market
- Tourism must be based on hospitality
- Tourism must benefit the economy and complement other industries
- Provide for both pre-planned and independent travel
- Industry must work with native groups to enhance Alaska’s cultural resources
- Alaska must be promoted to a variety of visitor markets
- Introduce new destinations similar to Denali and Glacier Bay
- Provide access to private and public lands
- Partnerships with other organizations, including Alaska Native corporations
The geology of the basin bears many similarities to that of the Cook Inlet basin, especially in the Mesozoic section — during Mesozoic times the Copper River and Cook Inlet areas formed part of a huge marine region.
The age of the Mesozoic marine sediments around the Copper River Valley ranges from middle Jurassic to late Cretaceous, with a sequence of rocks strikingly similar to the Mesozoic of Cook Inlet. The sequence includes rocks that are age-equivalent to the source rock of most of the oil found in the Cook Inlet oil fields, but they differ somewhat in their composition and are reportedly less oil prone. One Copper River Mesozoic limestone formation exhibits oil stains and petroliferous odors. Coal in one part of the section may have generated natural gas.
The Tertiary section that occupies the basin is typical of rock of that age in Alaska, having terrestrial sediments interspersed with coal seams in a geologic setting conducive to the formation of biogenic gas — gas that has formed from the bacterial decomposition of organic material.
Road and pad construction has been completed to prepare for drilling in fall 2016 of a gas exploration well, known as Tolsona No. 1, under a state exploration license issued to Tolsona Oil & Gas Exploration LLC, an Ahtna, Inc. company. The area of interest is part of the Middle Earth and New Frontier basins located in the Copper River region. Drilling will take place on state land about 11 miles west of Ahtna’s corporate headquarters in Glennallen, AK.
Some limited oil and gas exploration of the area was done prior to the mid-1980s, with geophysical surveys and 11 wildcat wells. Several of the wells encountered oil and gas shows. The wells also encountered over pressured zones, especially in a distinctive Mesozoic limestone horizon. Mud volcanoes in the Tolsona area emit gas containing a high percentage of methane.
A more recent resurgence of interest in the area resulted in the issue of a State of Alaska exploration license in October 2000 to Anschutz Exploration, on 398,445 acres of state land west of Glennallen. The area of interest also encompassed some Native land owned by Ahtna.
After the shooting of some 2-D seismic in the exploration area, and following some shuffling of business deals around the funding of exploration activities, Texas-based Rutter and Wilbanks, with Anschutz and Forest Oil as minority partners, spudded a wildcat gas well on Ahtna land in early 2005, in a structure near an Amoco well drilled about 25 years earlier.
The Rutter and Wilbanks well i.e. the Ahtna 1-19, was drilled to its target depth of 7,500 feet, without finding any gas. But because of a high pressure zone at a depth of 1,200 feet, the company had to use heavy drilling mud that damaged a potential gas reservoir partway down the well.
In October 2005, with the original Glennallen exploration license set to expire, Forest Oil, the company that by then owned the license along with Anschutz, filed a successful application to convert part of the license area to standard state oil and gas leases in the neighborhood of the Ahtna land where Rutter and Wilbanks had drilled the Ahtna 1-19 well. Anschutz and Pacific Energy Resources, the company that bought Forest Oil’s Alaska properties in 2007, still own these leases, but Pacific Energy has been trying to dispose of its Alaska assets in bankruptcy court in Delaware.
In the fall of 2006, Rutter and Wilbanks made an unsuccessful attempt to penetrate the damaged section of reservoir rock in the Ahtna 1-19 well. The company returned in 2007 to drill the Ahtna 1-19A sidetrack well into the reservoir using a coiled tubing unit. In June 2007 the company announced a gas find at a depth of 4,300 feet.
But the well was producing excessive amounts of water along with the gas, even though resistivity logs suggested that relatively little of this water originated in the reservoir.
Rutter and Wilbanks was convinced of a significant gas resource in the Ahtna prospect, perhaps with a gas volume in the range of 50 billion to 150 billion cubic feet.
After a two-year hiatus while the company tried to secure the use of a suitable drilling rig, Rutter and Wilbanks returned to Glennallen in the summer of 2009 with the coiled tubing unit to try to plug with cement the source of water flowing into the well bore and then drill a second sidetrack well. The idea was to determine whether gas could be produced without excessive water production and to evaluate the size of the resource.
Defeated by excessive down hole pressure and a continuing flow of water into the well, Rutter and Wilbanks finally gave up in late September 2010, plugging and abandoning the well after something in excess of $20 million had been spent on the Glennallen venture over the years.
In 2013, Ahtna submitted and received a State of Alaska Oil and Gas Exploration License for 43,500 acres west of Glennallen. Development plans included re-processing 90 miles of existing seismic data, conducting new seismic studies in 2014 to identify a new well location, and drilling of a new well in 2016 under Ahtna subsidiary Tolsona Oil and Gas Exploration, LLC.
Summary and Recommendations
Despite the lack of any commercial discoveries to date, potential remains for future production of hydrocarbons. Many large structural and stratigraphic traps remain undrilled and under explored. A more robust understanding of the hydrocarbon potential should be developed using modern seismic data, followed by targeted exploration data.
The timber resources of the Ahtna Region are a mixture of White spruce (Picea glauca), Black spruce (Picea mariana), Quaking aspen (Populus tremuloides) and Paper birch (Betula papyrifera) in the upland areas with Balsam poplar (Populus balsamifera) in the lowland areas. Spruce is the dominant species in this boreal forest type. White and Black spruce has commercial value for saw logs, biomass, fiber, and woodchips. The commercial value of the Quaking aspen and Paper birch is for biomass, fiber, and wood chips with some saw log value in birch which contains little or no defect. Most of the larger aspen and birch within the region is over 50 years old and contains a high percentage of rot or defect. There are some specialty markets for the Balsam poplar but for the most part these species have little commercial value at the present time in this area.
In 2011, Ahtna prepared an Ahtna Forest Stewardship Plan for forest management within the Ahtna Region. The Forest Stewardship Plan provides the basis for the interim management of forest resources pending the preparation and adoption of the site specific forest resources management planning.
There have been several timber inventories conducted on portions of Ahtna land.
- The US Forest Service conducted the first known inventory in 1968. This inventory identified 440,000 acres of commercial forestland within two million acres within the Copper River Valley. The focus of this inventory was to identify timbered areas and produce a volume estimate.
- Between 1989 and 1991, the Forestry Department of the Tanana Chiefs Conference conducted timber inventories on the Gakona, Gulkana, Tazlina and Mentasta village lands.
- In 1995 and 1996 a private forestry company performed a timber inventory primarily on the southern half of the Ahtna planning area.
- During 2010 and 2011, the Alaska Department of Natural Resources-Division of Forestry conducted two timber inventories based on weight measurement for the advancement of a biomass inventory in the Copper River Valley.
All the timber inventories identified approximately 700 million board feet of saw timber or over 3 million tons of accessible biomass.
Currently, Ahtna policies and procedures are to develop forest resources, making them available for maximum use that is consistent with the principle of sustained yield and with the overall Ahtna shareholder interest and uses. The primary purpose of the timber management program is utilization that provides for the production, use, and replenishment of timber resources while allowing other beneficial uses of Ahtna lands and resources.